I thought I would share with you my take on this piece of scripture that is the “verse of the day” today on the BibleGateway.com. I hope you find my thoughts useful.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13 NIV
The thing that strikes me first of all here is the very first word – “You”. By beginning with “you” there is no doubt at all who the speaker is addressing. It isn’t Tom next door, or Harry over the road, or Jenny from the next village, it’s YOU. This piece of wisdom is coming directly to you and it is for you to receive. And when I say you, of course I mean me as well. I count myself a sister in Christ, just as followers of him ought to, and as children of God we are all siblings to each other, so this opening address is most definitely for us all. Me included.
So what about siblings? I don’t know about you and whether you have your own brothers and sisters in your family but if you have then you’ll know what it’s like growing up with them – the arguments, the fall outs, the fights, the games, the fun, the laughter, the squabbles, the “why is it always me that has to go on the bottom bunk??”, calling shotgun when you’re the youngest (and not being allowed to see it through), the tears, the riots, the teasing…the love, the trust, the absolute “touch my little/big brother/sister and you’ll have ME to answer to!!” at school or in the streets. Isn’t that what a church family is too? Whatever goes on, it is always underpinned by love and no matter how much we squabble and try to kick against it, we belong to a family and we have a place within that family. It is a family that spans the generations and covers the whole world, and I for one am glad to belong to it.
This passage comes from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to the people of Galatia shortly after Jesus’ death. They were people who were on the cusp of Christianity, and Paul was urging them to become full converts to the Christian faith.
This “call to freedom”, as he puts it, is to free them from the old Jewish laws; laws which were swept away by Jesus’ promise of the New Covenant but which many were still clinging to. In this letter, Paul is convincing them of the freedoms they would enjoy if they left behind the Old and followed the New. But he also guards against indulging themselves in things that would bring misery elsewhere. He is telling them that they are free from the weight of the old ways, and that freedom was bought for them when Jesus became the final sacrifice on the cross, and that is not to be taken lightly or selfishly.
But that was then, 2000 years ago, what about now? How does God call us in the same way that he called the Galatians way back then? We are children of the same God that the Galatians were, and that makes us brothers and sisters with them too.
So what are we doing with our freedom?
Are we free to enjoy the full life God wants for us? Are we free to be happy, to be fulfilled, to love and be loved in return? If not, why not?
We need to free ourselves of earthly worries if we are to be closer to God, but it’s not as easy as all that is it? It isn’t easy to put aside very real money worries, fears about keeping a roof over your head and food on your table; it isn’t easy to keep being friendly to people who hurt you or who spread ugly rumours about you; it isn’t easy bringing up children when they have extra needs and society blames you for somehow “damaging” them; it isn’t easy to reach out and help people who scare you; it isn’t easy living with violence, fear, oppression, loneliness and doubt; it isn’t easy getting through life without a crutch that causes as much damage as it gives comfort.
God wants us to be free from the things that weigh us down, the things that trouble us, the things that harm us and the burden of guilt we carry around with us.
And throughout it all, he is there with us and is close by us, even though we may not always feel very close to him at all.
We are told time and time again in the Bible that by serving others we are serving him. If we all serve each other and put each other’s needs before our own, the world would be transformed overnight.
Now wouldn’t that be lovely?